[The following is an unedited transcript of the speech I shared this morning commemorating the third anniversary of the loss of nine of our teammates fighting for freedom in Afghanistan…a reminder they are gone but certainly not forgotten].
We have a difficult but important duty today, paying homage to nine American heroes who gave everything in defense of freedom.
Three years ago today, it was a standard Wednesday morning in the Air Command and Control Center, Headquarters Afghan Air Force.
The Center was abuzz with daily update meetings and discussions of training. Then suddenly, things went tragic.
A veteran Afghan pilot entered the ACCC and opened fire, fatally wounding eight Airmen and one contractor.
In a moment of indiscriminate violence, lives were shattered, hearts broken and a nation shaken.
Nine individuals, leaders in their own rights with unique gifts and talents to share with the world, were lost. They died in the very space they worked. They sacrificed doing the mission they loved.
Today, as the clock strikes 10:10 a.m., the exact time this tragedy occurred over 1,000 days ago, we gather to reflect on the selfless service and eternal sacrifice of these nine Men and women, professional airmen, spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings, proud Americans.
On this beautiful spring morning, we intentionally set aside the busyness of our daily routines to pay respect to those who have come before us in laying the foundation for a better, safer, stronger Afghanistan.
Assembled in this courtyard named in honor of those we commemorate today, less than a quarter of a mile from the site of this tragedy, progress continues. The same ACCC that once spawned a tragedy now bustles with energy and pride as AAF personnel direct Afghan crews and assets to missions throughout Afghanistan.
Today is a reminder that their sacrifice, their unfortunate loss, didn’t lead us to quit but rather, emboldened our resolve to forge forward as determined and as committed as ever.
Today we honor the memory of our fallen teammates by doing all we can to help the Afghan AF grow into its potential…to be a model of professionalism to the people it serves; a symbol of strength to those it protects; a demonstration of resolve to the enemies it deters.
If what President John F. Kennedy said is true: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,” there is no better place to do just that than here, right now, with all of you in this courtyard 8,000 miles from home honoring those who gave all so others may have an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of freedom.
If we’ve learned anything from the wars in which we fight today; it’s that courage and sacrifice are not proprietary values that belong to a bygone generation. Rather, they are timeless reminders that the most important things in life demand we give our best and, perhaps as in the case of our fallen but not forgotten NATC-9 teammates, maybe even give all we have to give.
Today we mourn the loss of these fine men and women. We mourn with their families. We pause to remind the world these strong and vibrant warriors are loved and they are missed.
I close by reminding you that every generation of Americans has heard the call to service. Yet only a few have responded to the call.
Only a few have stepped forward, raised their right hand and sworn to defend our nation with their lives.
Thank you, all of you, for being the small percentage of people who are willing to answer the call to selfless service.
Thank you for all you do every day to serve the men and women of Afghanistan.
Thank you all for continuing to tell the story of what we, and those who have come before us, continue to do to deliver the promise of democracy to a nation hungry for freedom/
And above all, thank you for affording me the privilege of serving with you.
May God continue to bless you, the families of our fallen, this mission and our beloved nation.